At just 14 years old, Moussa Diabaté left all he’s ever known. Now at age 20, he’s just stepped afoot into the world full of the unknowns: the NBA.
His first step was a 22-minute stint in his Summer League debut for the Los Angeles Clippers.
In the first game of this summer showdown, Diabaté brought the same game package that he used to dazzle Michigan fans last year — let’s call it controlled chaos.
He ran all over the floor setting picks and rolling off them, animatedly asking for the ball. Whether he got the ball or not, it seemed his energy and off-the-ball movement opened up good looks for crafty playmakers like Jason Preston to find.
And every time a shot went up, Diabaté faced the hoop and tried to outmuscle his opponents for an offensive rebound — coincidentally or not, 6 of his 7 rebounds were offensive rebounds.
With the ball, Diabaté was the same efficient scorer as he was at Michigan, sinking 3 out of 4 shot attempts. His superb off-the-ball movement gave him a few easy flushes, but his best moment came to him when he spun to his right and finished emphatically over the help defense.
Most noticeably, however, the one-two punch of Diabaté’s indestructible motor and elite athleticism was what won the Clippers anything from the jump ball to start the game and the many 50-50 balls that found their way to the Clippers — and eventually the game. The way he, out of nowhere, wins possessions and outhustles everyone, I don’t think it’d be too much of an exaggeration to call him a 6-foot-10 Patrick Beverley. And that might be just what Lawrence Frank and the Clippers saw in him.
That isn’t to say the Frenchman is NBA-ready — as of now, at least. As clear as his strengths were in his twenty minutes in action, his weaknesses were just as evident.
While not a major weakness, Diabaté’s defensive presence could use some work: he logged just one block and defensive rebound each. Admittedly, the rookie forward does not forget to box out and uses his length to contest shots, some of which surprisingly found the bottom of the net regardless. But he could use better defensive composure and positioning inside the paint to be of a greater threat on defense.
As for his biggest shortcoming, it’s his shot — or lack thereof, I should say.
Sure, Diabaté isn’t known to have the prettiest of jumpers nor is it what made the Clippers pull the trigger on him. He is an athletic big that can put points on the board without having to be Luke Kennard, after all. But it is of concern that he made just 4 of 9 free throw attempts (that’s 44.4%, for your information). Without a more reliable stroke from the foul line, Diabaté will be a much easier offensive task for the opponents: they’ll always have the option of sending him to the free throw line if and when needed.
But it should be of comfort to know that the biggest gem to Diabaté’s game isn’t related to any of the flaws we talked about. Rather, it’s his high ceiling and his never-ending journey towards reaching it. From his freshman year in high school to his senior year, to his season at Michigan, to now, Diabaté has been credited with learning and growing at an incredibly rapid pace. And now with the Clippers, you best believe that he will continue to do just that.